On December 20, one month after the Ontario government ended last fall’s college faculty strike with back-to-work legislation, the two sides have completed a binding arbitration agreement mandated in the legislation to settle all outstanding issues. Both the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which initiated the strike, and the College Employer Council (CEC) say they are satisfied with the conclusion of the agreement, which was brought together by arbitrator William Kaplan.
The main components of the Kaplan award, as the agreement is called, are a wage increase of 7.75 per cent over the course of four years, a payment of $900 to full-time staff and $450 to part-time staff to satisfy claims and grievances filed as a result of the strike, academic freedom in terms of curriculum and research, and a government-mandated task force to look into the lack of full-time positions and excess of contract-workers.
Both parties acknowledged the impact the strike and arbitration had on students, who lost five weeks of learning. Jonathan Singer, professor and president of the faculty union at Seneca College, said, “I’d like to express my tremendous thanks for the support that we received from union locals at the University of Toronto and also from college and university students province-wide.”
Both parties are claiming success through the arbitration after some of the more controversial matters were settled. OPSEU cited the establishment of academic freedom as a success; the CEC consider the retention of control over academic programming a win.
“We are happy to have gained academic freedom as a consequence of the strike,” Singer said.
Pat Kennedy, president of the faculty union at Algonquin College, agrees that the result is a success for OPSEU, but says he is “perplexed” as to why the CEC also viewed the agreement as a victory.
“They’re just trying to save face,” said Kennedy. “I have yet to hear any articulation from any management as to what they got [from the arbitration].”
Don Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer of the CEC and member of the bargaining team, said that although Kaplan awarded OPSEU the academic freedom it wanted, “he did not award… academic control. So the issue of programming, academic programming, remains in the hands of the institution.”
Looking forward, Singer said that they are “very hopeful that the province-wide task force… will be addressing issues of full-time versus part-time complement and academic governance at Ontario’s colleges.” The use of part-time faculty was a matter of contention during the strike that has yet to be solved.
“We wish that we had been negotiating with an employer who was willing to address issues at the bargaining table rather than one that was committed to stonewalling until the government legislated us back to work,” said Singer.
Sinclair says he is aware of the impact the arbitration agreement has on relations between the CEC and the faculty.
“I think it’s been a tough strike for everyone. I think with the award it will help put to rest some of the issues, and that we [will] all just move forward and try to [rebuild] our positive relationships,” Sinclair said.